Cinema of Pakistan
Pakistan and India are two hostile neighbours in the South Asian Region, who vie whenever the national teams of the two countries come face to face, the fight is with each other in almost every sphere. In cricket, hockey, wrestling or squash, always a close one and a great deal of heat and excitement is generated on both sides of the border. But the one field in which India undoubtedly surpasses all other countries in the region, including Pakistan, is showbiz. In fact, India produces more films than even Hollywood while Pakistan’s film industry is yet to make even a mark in the region.
History provides some explanation for this contrast. In undivided India, Lahore (then in the Punjab) was important as a showbiz centre. It had an established film-making centre. The first film ever to be made in a Lahore studio was Delhi Express (1935) and thereafter many Urdu and Punjabi films emerged from Lahore every year. The partition of India into two independent states – India and Pakistan, caused irreparable damage to film production in Lahore. Most of Lahore’s film producers were Hindu and as the city fell to the side of the Islamic state of Pakistan, they migrated to India. This deprived Lollywood, as Lahore is referred to in film circles, of much needed investment and expertise in film production and distribution.
Teri Yaad (1948)
Fortunately, the outflow from Lahore was accompanied by an inflow into the city. Affected by the same political change, a number of talented Muslims who have established themselves in Bombay’s (now Mumbai) film circles, moved back to Lahore. Prominent among them were film producer Syed Shaukat Hussain Rizvi, his wife actress and singer Noor Jehan, actress Swarn Lata, actor Nazeer, director W. Z. Ahmad, director Luqman, director Sabtain Fazli, music director Feroze Nizami and music director Khawaja Khursheed Anwar. These creative artists laid the foundation of the Pakistani film industry. They were also responsible for producing some of the best films ever made in Lollywood.
The creative energy of Lahore’s film people began to express itself as soon as the partition frenzy subsided. Lollywood became alive again and Teri Yaad was the first film released after partition. Featuring Nasir Khan, brother of film icon Dileep Kumar and Asha Posle, it was released at Lahore Parbhat Cinema on Sept 2, 1948. Its producer was a Hindu named Diwan Sardari Lal, Daud Chand was the director while Nath was the music director. The following year, Anis Productions released a Punjabi film Pheray. Featuring Nazeer (who was also its director) and Swarn Lata, the film proved to be a success and became the first Pakistani film to complete a 25-week run at cinema houses. Another important film was Naubahar Films’ Do Ansoo which was released in 1950. Produced by Sheikh Latif and directed by Anwar Kamal Pasha, it won popularity and became first Urdu film to complete its silver jubilee.
The most conspicuous among the returnees from Mumbai, however, was Syed Shaukat Hussain Rizvi. A well-known film personality in Mumbaiyya film circles, he started making efforts to establish himself in Lahore. He founded a new film studio called Shahnoor in the city’s suburbs and began his productions.
Shahnoor’s first major production was Chan Way. It was also the first Pakistan film to be directed by a woman. Featuring Noor Jehan (who was also the director) and Santosh Kumar in the lead roles, the film was released on April 29, 1950. The script was by renowned playwright Syed Imtiaz Ali Taj while the musical score was by Feroze Nizami. Chan Way was an immediate hit with its music as a strong point. One of its hit songs sung by Noor Jahan Mundiya Sialkoti ya, is still a very popular number among fans of Noor Jehan who won the popular epithet of Malika- e-Tarannum or Melody Queen.
The success of these early post-1947 films proved to be a source of encouragement for investors. In 1954, another new film company Eastern Studio was established in Karachi and this was followed by the mushrooming of three more film studio – Qaisar, Karachi and Modern studios. The same year another milestone in the history of films in Pakistan was set when a Punjabi film Sassi was released. Featuring Sabiha Khanum, Sudhir and Asha Posle, the film was directed by seasoned director Daud Chand while G A Chishti was the music director. It not only turned out to be a successful movie but was also the first Pakistani film to be a golden jubilee hit by completing a 50 week run in cinema houses.
Lahore was not the only city to make a mark in Pakistan’s film map. Soon afterwards Dhaka (now in Bangladesh) also started emerging as a film-making centre. Its development was supported by the patronage extended by the central development board. In technical aspects of film-making, Dhaka forged ahead of both Lahore and Karachi by exploring new avenues in cinematography and film processing. In fact, Pakistan’s first colour film Sangam, was filmed in a Dhaka studio.
The film medium did not fail to attract men of letters. Pakistan’s renowned Urdu poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz composed lyrics for a film Jago Hoowa Swera which was released on May 25, 1969. It was on the theme of the Palestinian resistance (Intefada) to the occupation of the West bank. Though well directed by A. J. Kardar, the film was a box office failure. Perhaps what its makers might have considered its strenghts – the literary merit of its songs and the intellectual depth of its dialogues – became the prime causes for the masses turning away from it. Involvement of literary figures in films was not always a recipe for financial disaster. Khalil Qaiser’s Shaheed (1962) which had songs composed by another well-known poet Riaz Shahid set to music by Rasheed Attre, won wide public acclaim from cinegoers. One of its songs Uss Bewafa Ka Shehr Hai Aur Ham Hain Dosto is still very popular in urban middle classes of Pakistan. Another Urdu film Aaina (1977) for which lyrics had been composed by renowned poet Saroor Barabankwi completed an outstanding 400-week run in cinema halls. Featuring Shabnam and Nadeem, produced by A. R. Shamsi and directed by Nazarul Islam it had music composed by Robin Ghosh, Its lyrics were composed by while singers included Alamgir, Mehnaz, Nayyara Noor and Mehdi Hasan.
Despite the failure of a film based on the Intefada – Shaheed, Riaz Shahid who had written the script for it picked the same theme for his own film Zarqa which was released on October 17, 1969. The fact that most Pakistani Muslims attach great importance to the struggle of Palestinians who they think are fighting for the liberation of Al-Quds, the second most sacred place for Muslims after Khana Kha’aba in Mecca, seems to have prompted this move. Zarqa told the story of a Palestinian girl who suffers for the cause of the freedom of her motherland. Apart from the progressive poet Habib Jalib’s famous song Raqs Zanjeer Pehn Kar Bhi Kiya Jata Hai, Zarqa is remembered for an offer made by Riaz Shahid to a Palestinian militant organization Al-Fatah which was asked to collect the distribution rights of the movie for the entire middle eastern region
There were strong political reasons for the success of Zarqa. The song Raqs Zanjeer Pehn Kar Bhi Kiya Jata Hai was very close to real life incidents taking place in the life of actress Neelo, the heroine of the movie. On February 12, 1965, it is reported that she was invited to a dinner in honour of the visiting Shah of Iran hosted by Pakistan’s military dictator Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Khan. At the end of the function, Neelo was asked to dance and entertain the royal guests. Initially, she refused to oblige but was forced to comply in order to save the lives of her family members. This episode had a lasting impact on the the heroine as well as the general public. After the release of Zarqa crowds thronged to the cinema house to see Neelo in the film and to express general contempt for their hateful military dictator.
By 1966, it was time was the rise of Pakistan’s first super star in the film firmament. He took the form of the ‘Chocolate hero’ Waheed Murad. The film to catapult him into the limelight was Arman. Released on March 18, 1966, it became a trend-setter and was an immense box office hit. Waheed Murad had the distinction of being not only the hero of the film, but also its scriptwriter and director. Arman completed a historic 75-week run in cinema houses and established Waheed Murad as the most popular film personality of his times. A number of movies were made on the same story pattern of Arman but could not match the original. They just failed to impress the public.
The record set by Arman could only be broken five years later by a Punjab Films production Dosti which was relased on Feb 7, 1971. Produced by Noor Jehan’s new husband Ijaz Durrani (who also played the lead role), it became a diamond jubilee hit by running 100 weeks at cinema houses. It was directed by Sharif Nayyar while A. Hameed was the music director. Besides Ijaz Durrani, it starred Husna, Rehman and Saqi. Its song Chitthi Zara Sayyan Ji Ke Naam Likh Do sung by Noor Jehan is still very popular.
But the best was yet to come two years later with the release of Punjabi film Maula Jat featuring violent hero Sultan Rahi. The running period of this movie at cinema halls was so long that people simply lost track. This was undoubtedly the most successful film ever made in Pakistan. The typical axe (called gandasa in Punjabi and Hindi) held high by the character Maula Jat is an accepted symbol of violent protest against the cruel military regime by the poor masses. It established Sultan Rahi as the most successful film personality of Pakistan. He held this position till his death in 1996. His death was as dramatic as his figure had become after his rise to stardom and fame. While travelling from Islamabad to Lahore by road, he stopped on the roadside to change the tyre of his jeep. Suddenly, a gang of bandits appeared on the scene and fired a shot at him. He died instantantly. Thousands of people attended his funeral held in a park close to his house. So strong was the public reaction, that the traffic remained suspended in the entire area for several hours after his funeral.
Though Maula Jat’s hero was no longer there, Punjabi films modelled on the Maula Jat formula were churned out from Lollywood for the next sixteen years.
So strong was its impact, that the word Jat was tagged on to the title of every Punjabi film that was released from here. This gave rise to a string of films such as Maula Jat in London, Wehshi Jat and Jat Da wair to name just a few.
Zinda Laash (1967)
The repetitive nature of Lollywood films, brought about important changes. The country’s middle classes began to grow disenchanted with the made in Pakistan brand of films. They not only started turning away from indigenous films but also began to prefer watching India movies or television plays at home. The populist masses, however, continued to to throng to see formula movies. As a result the producers were not worried and had no complaints for they were getting their money back. However, Pakistan’s film industry as a whole suffered.
There was virtually no Urdu film in the circuit and this deprived the industry of the Urdu-speaking viewers living in urban centres such as Karachi, Hyderabad and elsewhere in the country. It was only in the mid 1990s that the situation started changing. The film that ushered in some improvement was Syed Noor’s film Jeeva in 1995. Like many of its predecessors, it was a love story but there was a totally new cast comprised of Resham, Babar Ali and others. It had outdoor shooting on a foreign shore which allowed the director enough freedom to treat its love theme with a degree of boldness. The music was also very engaging. All these features helped the film to turn into a big success. Middle class families began to go back to the cinema which they had earlier abandoned.
An earlier Punjabi film by the same Syed Noor Choorian had also helped the film industry gain some ground. It had a number of positive features. Choorian was shot in rustic settings and the plot was kept very close to real life. With scant space for suspension of belief, common people could easily identified themselves with the characters in the film and enjoyed every bit of it. The music being very akin to Punjabi folk, was an additional bonus. Busty Saima who was in the female lead role, really looked like an earthy Punjabi beauty while Momar Rana (a scion of the Rana family of cricketers), was a refreshing addition to the film world.
While these two Syed Noor films broke new ground with the freshness of their themes and new faces, Javed Sheikh’s Yeh Dill Aap Ka Hua did the same through the use of technique. He was the first director to utilise modern sound recording and film processing resources available in the international circuit. With an investment of about 500 millions Pakistani rupees (equivalent to about six million pounds), it is rated as the costliest Pakistani film ever made. Javed Sheikh plans to release the film internationally and if he succeeds, it will be the first Pakistani film to have be launched in the international film circuit.
The films produced in Pakistan indicate that throughout the 55 years after partition, the country has not suffered from a dearth of talent in any field of film making. There have been talented actors, directors, technicians, poets as well as script writers. Yet, they somehow have not so far been able to form successful combinations that lasted long enough to make meaningful inputs. Consequently, we have only been able to see intermittent flashes or sparks of great film-making in Pakistani cinema. Whenever there was a fresh idea in set-designing, an original plot, a fresh face or a good song, the result was a wave of appreciation from the chattering classes and success at the box office. This is illustrated by films including Arman of Waheed Murad, Aaina of Nazarul Islam, Jeeva and Choorian of Syed Noor and Yeh Dil Aap Ka Hua of Javed Sheikh.
Most of the time, however, producers opted for the beaten and safe path and made films which were in keeping with the public taste instead of taking risks. It would have been easier for them to be adventurous if they had any kind of government patronage. Pakistan no doubt, had a National Film Development Corporation (NAFDEC) at the federal level, but its role in the development of the film industry was ceremonial rather than real. Like a number of other institutions working for the development of arts and culture, it received some attention during the five year tenure of Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. However, as soon as Bhutto was removed from the scene, NAFDEC’s future came under a cloud as the military government of Gen Zia-ul-Haq was using religion as a tool to woo the religious groups opposed to Mr Bhutto. The NAFDEC never regained its original role in later years and was only used for placing undesirable civil servants in post.
Khuda Kay Liye (2007)
Apart from the lack of real official patronage, the film industry has been suffering due to the inconsistency of Pakistan’s censor policy. During the government of a left of the centre party like the Pakistan People’s Party, it usually has enjoyed some breathing space. But, as soon as a military government comes to power, Pakistan’s film-makers have to suffer as the strict censor code has been placing them at a disadvantageous position vis-a-vis Indian films.
There have been some redeeming features too. The launch of cable television has made film-makers in Pakistan realise the need to make quality films if they want people to buy tickets and watch their movies. It has also driven the point home to authorities that there will be no film industry left if film producers are suppressed any further. Some relief in Entertainment Tax and duties on the import of film material has resulted in the making of films like Choorian and Yeh Dil Aap Ka Hua which are a source of pride for every Pakistani.
At present the indication is that the trend is changing and a healthy competitive spirit is developing among producers and directors to make quality films. In times to come, it should not come as a surprise if some quality films from Pakistan emerge in local as well as in international venues. (Scoure: Sajid Iqbal, BFI)Statistics (1947-2009)
• 1592 films in Urdu
• 1334 films in Punjabi
• 656 films in Pashto
• 154 films in Bengali
• 141 films in Urdu and Punjabi
• 69 films in Sindhi
• 4 films in Saraiki
Aasia/Asiya, Punjabi Actress, over 150 films
Anjuman, Punjabi Actress, over 150 films
A Short History of Pakistani Films
Wikipedia: Cinema of Pakistan
Lollywood in Lahore, Urdu & Punjabi language films
Kariwood in Karachi, has been closed and merged with Lollywood
Pollywood in Peshawar, Pashto language films
Sindhi language films
East Pakistan in Dacca or Dhaka (1947-1971), Bengali language films or see mubi list Cinema of Bangladesh
Book: Pakistan cinema, 1947-1997, Mushtāq Gazdar